In an attempt to understand the shamanic drum, primarily as used by the Siberian Sami culture, this philosophical tome dives into theories of ontology, epistemology, art history and ethnology.
A brief anthropological overview describes the drum as a tool for communication between nomads and the reindeer that were critical to their survival, as well as the knowledge a skilled shaman could use to develop wisdom and healing techniques for his community. But Gomez’s analysis becomes theoretical and essentialist as he compares the ontologies of Martin Heidegger and Gilles Deleuze to those of Plato, Aristotle and René Descartes in order to formulate an idea of the drum as a piece of equipment—“ready-to-hand,” as Heidegger might call it—that exists in the context of a world with structure and language. This type of discussion continues through dozens of great thinkers and ideas, yielding a grand analysis of the human condition and of Western versus nomadic thinking, as if a theoretical understanding of it all were necessary to put the shamanic drum into its proper context. Gomez rejects both a Freudian explanation of the shamanic journey as a psychological process occurring purely in the shaman’s mind and an Eliadian explanation based in visual imagery of the shaman’s ascension into the sky. Gomez’s frame for the journey is that of the shaman traveling through an information-rich, tactile soundscape of overtones and assumed animal identities, experienced by shaman and the nomadic community as a smooth transition between different worlds related by their proximity to one another rather than a striated jump between inner and outer worlds. Gomez’s style is lucid, well-organized, linear and academic, and his guide could serve well as a textbook for a graduate seminar. But for most readers, the wait for these insights may be too long, and the path is burdened by the volume of its proof as much as it is grounded by it. Spiritual seekers hoping to find a firmer conceptual grounding for modern shamanism—stronger, perhaps, than that provided by New Age favorites like Michael Harner—might find this reading much too difficult for the reward. Similarly, the Western academic focus, the relative dearth of information derived from actual discussions with modern Sami and the lack of photographs of real drums or analysis of their specific designs will disappoint readers looking for a more robust understanding of traditional shamanic culture. Nonetheless, deep thinkers who crave a real-world example around which to contemplate the nature of human existence will find ample food for thought.
Solid ground for philosophical explorations.